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ATI goes physics gaga

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Where Nvidia has been concentrating on the high definition end of things at this years Computex, ATI has been screaming at the top of its lungs about physics, and why their GPUs are the best pieces of silicon to do the job.

The battle between ATI and Nvidia rages in this sphere, of course, but you also have the third wheel of Ageia, makers of dedicated Physics Processing Units (PPUs), who believe that it is their solution which can do physics the best. Prepare for a day (expanding, no doubt, into a running gun battles worth) of PR spin and "Uhh, we're better than them."

We spoke to ATI's Richard Huddy a few weeks before Computex, and certainly the basic plan is a good one: Utilise all those extra flops of power on a GPU to do the math required to simulate realistic physics. Get a Crossfire or even an SLI system and you're flying, as they have enough bandwidth to do your graphics and juggle dynamite whilst entertaining the kids with blow up balloons, all at the same time.

The interesting thing about what we've seen today from ATI is their plan to use three graphics cards, instead of two or four, so you can grab two x1900's (let's say, for arguments sake) and then stick in a relatively cheap x1600 or so to do your physics grunt work. Of course you need 3 PCI Express slots to do this, and motherboards with three slots are few and far between. However if and when the likes of Quad SLI and this three-way solution from ATI take off we may start to find mobo's with three and four PCI-E slots easier and easier to come by.

All this activity from ATI, and the expected response from Nvidia, leaves the third wheel companies like Ageia in a bit of a rough spot. They may have claim to the better feature sets (arguably), but who would want to buy a PPU when they could just get their hands on one, two or even three to four GPUs that will do the same basic job? Until developers start implementing physics in their games in a major, every-game-has-it, sort of way there is no market for PPUs beyond the hardest of the hardcore. It's a seed, and it's something to grow from, but it's no ATI or Nvidia market position.

We await the dawn and the Nvidia and Ageia response to this ATI physics runaround. Meanwhile, everyone is eyeing up Conroe, which played a central part in the ATI demonstrations today. Two new developments in the tech world draw closer and closer to bearing fruit for Joe Consumer.

There is more! Check out the complete Computex 2006 coverage!

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